Vienna, 22.01.2018 Cigarette smuggling by air up 21.53% in 2017

Löger: "Combating fraud means justice for all"

Cigarettes seized by customs at Vienna Airport total almost 3 million

Customs officers at the Vienna Airport Customs Office confiscated a total of 2,933,592 smuggled cigarettes from passengers in 2017. Compared with the previous year (2016: 2,413,835), this thus constitutes an increase of 21.53%. In particularly audacious cases, passengers were found to be carrying 150 cartons of cigarettes or more in their personal luggage.

Since 2015, substantially greater quantities of cigarettes have been smuggled in luggage by air passengers. 2016 indeed saw a continuation of this trend. In 2017, from a total of 1,543 cigarette seizures from air passengers, around 14,668 cartons of cigarettes were removed from circulation. Of these, 11,214 cartons were confiscated in just 109 major seizures.

The increase relates both to seizures directly in Vienna and those executed through cooperation between the Eisenstadt Customs Office at Vienna Airport and European airports in other EU Member States. Indeed, in 70 cases, Eisenstadt customs officers at Vienna Airport passed on the suitcases containing smuggled cigarettes to their destination airport by way of mutual assistance procedures. On this basis, in 2017, around 1.5 million cigarettes were sent on for seizure by other European authorities. As a result of the Austrian operations which detected the cigarettes, at their destination in another European country the smuggled goods could be confiscated by the local customs authorities there, and the travellers in question, or any person collecting the luggage, could be prosecuted accordingly.

"Combating cigarette smuggling means justice for the honest taxpayer, protection for honest economic operators in our country and, not least, protection and security, as well as the health of the population," assures Hartwig Löger, Austrian Federal Minister of Finance, who is convinced of the necessity of combating fraud.

From questionable production locations and methods, to unknown ingredients and additives – the risks of illegal tobacco products for the consumer cannot be underestimated. Smuggling and the receiving of stolen tobacco products is no trivial offence, and moreover causes harm to domestic economic operators. Through its commitment to combating fraud, the Austrian customs administration is equally protecting consumer health, securing domestic jobs and protecting honest Austrian business undertakings against unfair competition. Finance Minister Löger: "I therefore congratulate all customs officers, as well as the animals who assist them, on their impressive successes – my heartfelt thanks for their untiring daily commitment in the interests of our economy and the people of this country!"

The cigarettes, largely from Armenia, Russia, Ukraine, Ethiopia and the UAE, were mostly intended for European destinations. Their planned end destinations, apart from Vienna, were often Madrid, Barcelona, Lyon, Copenhagen, London or Brussels.

"In 2017, cigarette smuggling by air travellers reached a depressing climax. The Eisenstadt Customs Office at Vienna Airport is therefore involved in intensive information exchange with other affected European airports in order to identify the perpetrators as effectively as possible," explained Stefan Fleischhacker, head of the Eisenstadt Customs Office at Vienna Airport. Fleischhacker is clearly justifiably proud of his team's achievement; "our risk-oriented control strategy is implemented in a highly professional and result-oriented manner by our customs officers – and our clear successes in combating smuggling provide impressive evidence of this!"

In addition to national operations and international mutual assistance, in the context of combating fraud, the Austrian Federal Ministry of Finance is heavily involved in international working groups for combating illegal cigarette production and smuggling. "Smugglers do not let themselves be held up by borders. Due to the strong commitment of our customs administration in the context of European and international cooperative arrangements, Austrian successes in the fight against cigarette production and smuggling often only come to fruition abroad, as a result of a particular situation and in order that the best-possible outcome can be achieved. In addition, the negative impact on smugglers and their clients is thereby often greater, and the preventive effect is enhanced," adds Josef Pfeiffer, expert in combating fraud at the Austrian Federal Ministry of Finance, also stressing the increasing importance of joint action against cigarette smuggling.

Investigations into cigarette smuggling at both national and international level constitute a main focus of attention for the Austrian customs administration. Indeed for this reason, in the context of service-dog provision, since 2002, the Austrian customs administration has trained tobacco sniffer dogs. In 2017, across Austria, 7,202,419 cigarettes were seized by Austrian customs, and in the case of approximately two thirds of these, namely 4,775,835, this was due to the targeted professional deployment and participation of service-dog handlers and their service dogs. Customs service dogs are able to very rapidly and successfully check luggage, huge transport containers or postal consignments without any requirement for them to be opened. Twenty-three service dogs are deployed across Austria; of these, seventeen have undergone intensive training to identify tobacco and narcotics and, in a team with their service-dog handlers, make an indispensable contribution to the fight against cigarette smuggling.